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Poster: BryanE Date: Oct 3, 2007 10:06am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Ship Of Fools. Period. (And I really DID NOT intend to bump this thread back to the top---it has had it's turn, has gotten it's due, and I apologize for re-ranking it. I was just removing the reference to spam. Again, VERY sorry!)

I'll just make an assumption here that if Ship of Fools isn't on a list that some might make of their Top 5 or 10 favorites, it's because its down-tempo nature is accentuated further by the blues framework of the chord progression, and not unlike Jimmy Stewart's Elwood P. Dowd's inability to understand why Dr. Chumley would want to be transported to a tropical paradise with all that gin and no whiskey (yes, I've used the same simile before, but I like it!), I don't really know why anyone would want all those Scarlet Begoniases and Eyes Of The Worlds without any blues. But to each his own. I'm a big fan of those flatted sevenths and fifths and thirds, so if it comes down to . . . well, I don't know . . . ranking them always amounts to a work in progress, but if I was forced at gunpoint to make the choice of compiling a list of my all-time favorite Dead tunes or taking a long dirt nap, Ship of Fools would have to be up there somewhere. Why? Well, I'm glad you asked because I'd love to explain.

First of all, when I began listening, the song wasn't one that would come to mind as one of my favorites, either, but as most might agree, actually seeing a song in action during a show can really change one's opinion for the better. As for Ship of Fools, that moment for me came during what was my ultimate Grateful Dead concert experience, 8/16/80, just a knock-down, drag-out night of shock and awe in Edwardsville, Illinois. I'm thinking of bluedevil's reply yesterday in the thread with the old YouTube clip of Weir and Garcia doing Masterpiece on Letterman: " . . . they go on Letterman to 'promote' their latest 'product' and do a great Dylan cover - I fuckin' love that." In much the same spirit as that combined act of self-iconoclasm and a love of curve balls, they chose not to follow the thunderstorm, quite literally, that was China>Rider that stormy night in Southern Illinois with a pull-out-all-the-stops barnburner, which would have been the obvious choice for any other run-of-the-mill arena rock act playing to a crowd enduring a torrential rainstorm. Another obvious choice would have been Brown-Eyed Women or some other kind of "rain fallin' down" tune, but Jerry went straight to his library of ballads. I remember thinking, "Only the Dead . . . " One lesson I took from it was about the power of restraint, or less is more, as the idea might be more commonly known. The rain was falling in sheets, and instead of sensing an urgency to run for cover, Ship of Fools just made me want to sway.

Hunter chose for his cautionary tale of rebellion, loss, and the cost of misguided loyalty to be told with a pirate motif. And we aren't talking about a vessel sailed by a crew of swashbuckling Errol Flynns, either; this is the story of working stiffs who don't know how to do anything else for a paycheck, living a hard life under the domineering thumb of a deranged boss. The background of the sea sets it apart from a lot of Hunter's work. I suppose Tales Of The Great Rum Runners is the only other one that's specifically about pirates. There's not a deck of cards to be found anywhere in the song, though, that much is sure. But there is a finesse of expression in it that is as poetic as anything he ever wrote. Instead of just saying that all the rum's gone, he says that "the bottle stem's as empty as it was filled before." No glass-is-half-full view of life here. It is a stark realization for a man, whose dreams he had when he was not old enough to know they would never come true, that "time that was in plenty, but from that cup no more." And just how crazy was that captain, anyway? "Strangest I could find," and that's not good. Come to think of it, I wouldn't want to lend my hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools, neither.

And then there's them sweet, sad blues from one of the most overlooked blues men in the business. Jerry loved to bring every bit of understanding he had of the blues scale's nuances and relative harmonies to every Ship of Fools solo as he could. As a matter of fact, he wrote it right into the chord progression. The diminished minor under "strangest I could find," "from rockin' of the boat," "as it was filled before," and finally behind "when I first believed you" in the chorus, is a stroke of genius. It is a difficult chord to use in a song because its diminished fifth has an unstable sound to the Western ear. We hear it and it makes us crave a resolution from elsewhere within the scale. It adds an air of suspense to the melody, thus creating a dramatic tension to the song that your basic dime store one-four-five rock-and-roll chord pattern can't hope to approach. We don't normally think about this kind of rudimentary music theory sort of stuff, or about poetic devices, either, for that matter, when we listen to these songs, nor do we have to. However, it helps us get a deeper understanding of the different elements that make each of them unique when we do. Maybe Ship of Fools will remain absent from those Top 5 and 10 lists after this has been read, but I hope you can now see why it will be put on mine. That is, of course, after that gun gets put to my head, forcing me to do so.

This post was modified by BryanE on 2007-10-03 17:06:02

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Poster: staggerleib Date: Oct 2, 2007 2:33pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

I think that the interpretation of Ship that BryanE put out there is probably one of the best I've ever read. From a musician's perspective, the analysis of the diminished fifth against a western ear, and the desire for a resolution is completely accurate.

For me, the biggest single reason that I love this song has to do with the Long Strange Trip album. Funny, I rarely listen to this. It was the first Dead LP I ever owned, and literally wore it out. The progression from St Stephen into Ship of Fools blew me away. I just gave it another listen, because of this particular thread, and am still amazed by it. No, not the best performance ever. Not even close. But for me it was seminal.

It was this album that started me on the path. Hard to believe it was 30 years ago. I saw my first show that year, and haven't looked back.

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Poster: johnnyonthespot Date: Oct 2, 2007 1:50pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

Never was a huge fan of song bu I of course can think of worse.

The thing that has been on my mind for this song for a LONG time was how Jerry was so adamantly reluctant to sing Foolish Heart because it was a song that offered advice. Well doesn't this song do the same? Granted good advice but still advice.

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Poster: Speaking in Swords Date: Oct 2, 2007 4:25pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

Spot on in both lyrical and musical analyses. A favorite of mine for sure ever since I heard the one from 7/8/78 with Jerry sounding real angry (!). Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I enjoyed reading.

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Poster: skuzzlebutt Date: Oct 3, 2007 6:36am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Ship Of Fools (It was supposed tosay dirt NAP, not map---I need to hie an editor who will work pro bono)

Outstanding post and a great read. Hats off.

Doesn't change my opinion about the tune, though- great lyrics by Hunter, but the song itself never did much for me and doesn't crack my Top 25.

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Poster: William Tell Date: Oct 2, 2007 4:08pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

Hey B--that was an amazing post. Especially since I am one of those that don't particularly care for the tune, BUT that said, I love what you had to say about it. Very nice.

Not that you wanted a listing--but I would, very personally, put a number ahead of it, but that's not the point here. It just goes to show what depth the boys had--I would pick most of the songs off Am Beauty and Workingman's ahead of this one if focusing on lyrics alone, and of course, any number of those off the first four releases if using both lyrics and music as components. But, to each his own.

Thanks.

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Poster: grendelschoice Date: Oct 2, 2007 4:26pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

I happen to LOVE Ship of Fools and put it on par with Stella for my favorite GD ballads.

The 5/9/77 version is for me THE greatest rendition, for Garcia's pitch-perfect vocals and the sweet guitar bridge in the middle.

What I find most remarkable about SOF is that when it's done right I find it IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO SING ALONG....even if I don't mean to, I find myself doing so...just something about the forlorn nature of those lyrics, which i think can be interpreted in a myriad of ways.

My favorite verse is the finale, which I read as a political treatise that is apt in any age, but (to me) particularly so now:

"The bottle stands as empty
as it was filled before
Time there was and plenty
But from that cup no more
Though I could not caution all
I still might warn a few
Don't lend your hand to raise no flag
atop no ship of fools."

Thanks, Bryan, for bringing this great tune up for discussion. It's the kind of thing that keeps me sticking around on the forum.

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Poster: caspersvapors Date: Oct 2, 2007 6:29pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

I absolute love Ship of fools, when i first started getting into the Dead I would skip over this song because right off the bat it sounded slow and boring. But then one day I just listened to the whole thing and absolutely loved it. The melody is beautiful and definitely a great Garcia ballad

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Poster: William Tell Date: Oct 2, 2007 5:03pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

Hey GC--I do agree with that sing along part...I feel that too with this one.

Cool.

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Poster: jglynn1.2 Date: Oct 2, 2007 3:12pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

Always one of my favorites!! Maybe because I've been sailing since I was a little kid and always loved the sea - plus the fact that Steal Your Face was my first Dead album and I still like listening to it (really like the Cold Rain and Snow from SYF also). Great post BryanE - you do realize I'm going to have to give Ship of Fools a listen as soon as 10-2-77 finishes!!!

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Poster: johnnyonthespot Date: Oct 3, 2007 9:24am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

jglynn - I'll go one further even. That CRS from SYF is THE best version of that song that they ever played. I've challenged people over and over to name a better one and haven't heard it yet.

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Poster: jglynn1.2 Date: Oct 4, 2007 7:11am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

I'm with ya on that - I have never heard a better one - unless it was at a show and I have forgotten it.

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Poster: JodyC Date: Oct 2, 2007 2:46pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

Dude-with this thought process it would have been almost a waste of time to have met at a concert where we could not hear each. Nice post!

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Poster: mcgannahan Date: Oct 2, 2007 3:12pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

lists are sure good for killin time

top 5 fave years:

5.70
4.72
3.77
2. 69
1. 73

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Poster: SomeDarkHollow Date: Oct 3, 2007 7:36am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: This Pirate Attacks From the Rear

Thanks for the edit. At least you took him out of the top spot.

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Poster: BryanE Date: Oct 3, 2007 7:38am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: This Pirate Attacks From the Rear

Aaaarrr, maties!

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Poster: jglynn1.2 Date: Oct 3, 2007 7:43am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: speaking of pirates . . .

My 4 yr old asked a very good question this AM.

"Daddy, what do you think is more scary Witches or Pirates?"

I told her I didn't know, they are both pretty scary.

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Poster: Administrator, Curator, or StaffNoiseCollector Date: Oct 3, 2007 8:47am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: speaking of pirates . . .

I married a witch and I survived. If you mean the drunken party pirate types who work at those themed dinner venues then that's a tough question, I cannot imagine a kid being afraid of a pirate but then again I didn't have CGI in my movies growing up.

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Poster: jglynn1.2 Date: Oct 3, 2007 8:54am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: speaking of pirates . . .

Glad you survived.

Well the 4 yr old did watch the Pirates of Caribbean movies with her older sisters and seemed less frightened than her 7 yr old sister. The fact that I let my 4 yr old watch the Pirates movies probably put me in the 'Bad Parent' catagory.

I'm still uncertain about witches and pirates, I've seen scary and funny versions of both.

Are you serious about Telephone Toughguy? I always enjoyed his posts.

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Poster: Liamfinnegan Date: Oct 3, 2007 6:23am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Ship Of Fools (It was supposed tosay dirt NAP, not map---I need to hie an editor who will work pro bono)

You know, I should preface comments on song preference with "as I heard it performed"- My dislike of the song has more to do with Heroin Jerry in the 80's stalling a set with a much too slow reading of the tune than the tune itself- It is not a bad tune at all- probably not top ten- maybe i will do that list later

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Poster: dc2 Date: Oct 2, 2007 2:22pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

The jamming during Ship of Fools is fairly predictable, and rarely veers off, so it doesn't make my top ten list for that reason alone.

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Poster: mcgannahan Date: Oct 2, 2007 2:32pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: More Thoughts About Ship Of Fools

my top ten gd tunes

10. crazy fingers
9. playin in the band
8. eyes of the world
7. the other one
6. jack straw
5. st. stephen
4. scarlet>fire
3. china>rider
2. dark star

ship of fools makes my top 100 for sure
1. morning dew

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Poster: jglynn1.2 Date: Oct 3, 2007 7:13am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Ship Of Fools---and now the title of the thread has been edited so IT doesn't make me look like a COMPLETE moron

Which words did you change

;)

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Poster: BryanE Date: Oct 3, 2007 7:24am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Ship Of Fools---and now the title of the thread has been edited so IT doesn't make me look like a COMPLETE moron

Well, I tried to get cheeky earlier this morning and wrote something in the title line about corrections that were made to the text, but instead inserted at least a couple of typos which I did not read until three hours later. It's moot, anyway, because now I'm going to change it again.